Today, the Senate Finance Committee voted 9-1 in favor of a resolution that directs the Attorney General to sue the federal government and stop refugee resettlement in Tennessee.
Ahead of the hearing, we delivered 2300+ signatures from our "I Welcome Refugees" petition to each Committee member. With the petition in hand and with supporters and refugees in the room, Senator Norris had to address our concerns. Even though we were unable to stop the resolution, it put the Committee members in an uncomfortable position and made our voices heard.
The resolution will go to the Senate floor in the coming days. Now is the time to stand with refugees! Our Senators need to hear from us! Please take a moment to send a message to your Senator to vote No on SJR0467. Click here to take action.
Read our press statement below for our take on the hearing and the final vote count.
Senate Committee Advances Resolution to End Refugee Resettlement
Tennessee Takes One Step Closer to Turning Our Backs on Refugees
NASHVILLE - Today, the Senate Finance Committee voted to pass SJR0467 by a vote of 9-1. The resolution's passage did not come as a surprise, as seven of the 11 committee members had previously signed on as co-sponsors. The resolution would direct the Attorney General to sue the federal government to end refugee resettlement and reserves the right of the General Assembly to hire outside counsel of the Attorney General refuses to sue. The resolution now moves towards a vote on the Senate floor.
In response to the Senate Finance Committee vote, Stephanie Teatro, Co-Executive Director of the Tennessee Immigrant & Refugee Rights Coalition (TIRRC), issued the following statement:
"Today, Senators voted to shut the door on refugee families in an exercise of political theater and election year politics at its worst. The Senate Finance Committee just passed the most extreme piece of anti-refugee legislation in the country that asks Tennessee taxpayers to foot the bill for frivolous litigation that won't hold up in court.
This resolution is nothing but smoke and mirrors. The lawsuit is not in response to recent global tragedies or changes in our refugee resettlement program -- national activists have been pushing some of the most extreme anti-refugee policy in Tennessee for years. And more recently, anti-refugee organizations have been shopping around this very lawsuit for months and have embarrassingly found a potential partner in Tennessee.
This isn't the first time the legislature has sought to end or derail refugee resettlement by claiming it is a drain on taxpayer resources or lacks a proper vetting process. In a similar debate three years ago, the legislature commissioned a report from the state's fiscal review committee to track the 'cost' of refugee resettlement in Tennessee, where they learned that refugee families contributed $1.4 billion in revenue for the state between 1990 and 2012, compared to requiring $753 million in state support. Coming to the United States as a refugee requires passing through the most highly scrutinized and lengthly security process available. Senators aren't actually concerned about cost or security - this is about sending an unwelcoming message to refugee families.
This resolution is unprecedented and gives Tennessee the unfortunate distinction of being the most unwelcoming state in the country. A good faith effort to understand or improve the refugee resettlement process does not require turning our backs on people who flee violence and persecution. At a time when Tennessee is setting up offices across the world promoting international investment, this resolution is an embarrassment that threatens our global reputation."
The Tennessee Immigrant & Refugee Rights Coalition has documented the long history of anti-refugee policy in Tennessee in a recent report, Countering the Backlash: Strategies for Responding to Anti-Refugee and Xenophobic Activity from the New South.
Senator Randy McNally - Yes
Senator Bo Watson - Yes
Senator Doug Overbey - Yes
Senator Steve Dickerson - No
Senator Ferrell Haile - Yes
Senator Thelma Harper - Pass
Senator Joey Hensley - Yes
Senator Bill Ketron - Yes
Senator Mark Norris - Yes
Senator John Stevens - Yes
Senator Reginald Tate - Yes